JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, March 21 – Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama says Kenya can stun Nigeria in Calabar this weekend when the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Africa resume.
The clash of the Super Eagles and the Harambee Stars appears a mismatch as the 2013 Cup of Nations champions are 33 places higher on the CAF rankings, enjoy home advantage and there is a three-point gap between the teams.
Nigeria beat Namibia at home and held Malawi away in Group F last June to collect four points while Kenya secured just one after a home draw against Malawi and a loss in Namibia.
But Wanyama, reportedly noticed by several leading English Premier League clubs after scoring against Barcelona to help Celtic reach the last-16 of the UEFA Champions League this season, is upbeat.
“The players are ready, there is a lot of mental strength among them and we are hopeful of a favourable result against Nigeria,” Wanyama, 21, told Kenyan reporters.
“Everything is possible in football and Kenya can win in Nigeria — it is time the Harambee Stars moved forward in international football,” added the national captain who made his international debut at 17 against Nigeria.
Nigeria ended a 19-year trophy drought when they won the Nations Cup a third time last February with a Sunday Mba half-volley just before half-time settling the final against surprise side Burkina Faso.
Few beyond Nigeria gave the Eagles a chance of going all the way, but a mix of young local and foreign-based stars soared after a slow start and excelled when beating title favourites Ivory Coast in the knockout stages.
But coach Stephen Keshi, who shares with the late Egyptian Mahmoud Al Gohary the record of winning the Africa Cup as a player and a coach, has told his stars to forget the Soweto triumph.
“South Africa is history now and Nigeria must qualify for Brazil next year. We need the support of everyone to ensure that happens and I know my boys will not let the nation down.”
Keshi has called up two midfielders — Ukraine-based Michael Babatunde and John Ogu of Portuguese club Academica Coimbra — who did not make the 23-man Nations Cup-winning squad.
Kenya will rely heavily on France-based striker Dennis Oliech for goals and Algeria-born Adel Amrouche makes his debut as coach after succeeding veteran Frenchman Henri Michel.
Burkina Faso are in trouble having taken only one point from two Group E games, and that was later forfeited because they fielded ineligible defender Herve Zengue in a 0-0 home draw with Congo Brazzaville.
The Stallions created one of the biggest upsets in Nations Cup history by reaching the final under Belgian coach Paul Put and player-of-the-tournament Jonathan Pitroipa says they must carry on where they left off in South Africa.
“We must build on the Nations Cup results and prove that our results were not a flash in the pan,” stressed the slightly built midfielder who operates down the flanks.
Burkina Faso host Niger in Ouagadougou while leaders Congo are at home to Gabon, who also had a point deducted for using an ineligible player, on an artificial pitch in Atlantic port Pointe Noire.
Mali, who exceeded expectations by coming third in South Africa, must do without injured goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa away to Rwanda in Group H and fourth-place Ghana face Sudan in a crucial Group D clash for both teams.
Sudan were the third country found guilty by FIFA of fielding an ineligible player with a 2-0 home win over Zambia changed to a 3-0 loss and they face a Black Stars side already three points behind the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets).
Brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew from French outfit Marseille are boycotting the Kumasi fixture afer being left out of the Cup of Nations squad and other big names not in action include Ivorian Didier Drogba and Egyptian Essam Al-Hadary.
Coach Sabri Lamouchi says striker Drogba, who failed to sparkle at the Africa Cup, must regain match fitness and five other Ivorians who were in South Africa are also dropped for a Group C home fixture against minnows Gambia.
Inactive goalkeeper Al Hadary misses a Group G home game against Zimbabwe and South Africa must find new centre-backs to face Central African Republic in Cape Town with captain Bongani Khumalo axed and Siyabonga Sangweni injured.